Fairy tales and fables are fascinating, and authors are often tempted to put a different spin on them, or use them to enhance an otherwise dull plot (cough, cough, The Red Queen Dies, cough cough).
Ron Koertge reimagines the fairy tales by telling the stories from other viewpoints, adding bits of humor and darkness. Sometimes the moral is questioned, like for Little Thumb:
Everybody says the moral of the story
is that short guys can be cunning
But I think the moral is that children pay
for the sins of the parents. Ask anybody
who hates to go home after school.
Koertge is a master, adding sympathy to established villains and questionable motives to so-called heroes and heroines.
If you're still unsure if you should read this, take a look at the last poem, in which The Wolf finally is able to speak his mind:
Let’s get a few things straight. Only a few of us like to
dress up like grandma and trick little girls. Those who
do belong to what we call the Scarlet Underground.
It’s not their fault, so they’re tolerated if not embraced.
The rest of us are wolves through and through. We enjoy
the chase, the kill, a nap in the sun on a full stomach.
Our enemy is man with his arrogance and greed.
The woodsman in particular. Destroyer of trees.
Clearer of land. Owner of fire.
While he drops and burns and builds, we terrorize his
wife, surrounding her as she goes for water. We howl
outside his windows half of the night, and if that doesn’t
drive him away we take him out, leaving just a few
bones so the message is clear:
This is our forest. Perfect before you came.
Perfect again when all your kind is dead.